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Petition to hike taxi flag-down rate awaiting LTFRB decision

PHILIPPINE STAR/ MICHAEL VARCAS

By Arjay L. Balinbin, Senior Reporter

TAXI OPERATORS said they are awaiting a decision from the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) on their petition to increase the flag-down rate to P60 from the current P40.

Jesus Manuel C. Suntay, president of the Philippine National Taxi Operators Association, said in a phone interview on Friday: “We’re waiting for the resolution.”

“The last hearing took place maybe around two weeks ago,” he added.

The petition is now “up for resolution,” an LTFRB representative said in a phone message on Friday, relaying Chairperson Cheloy Velicaria-Garafil’s response to a BusinessWorld query.

Mr. Suntay said a flag down increase is urgent because fuel prices continue to rise.

Oil companies are expected to increase fuel prices this week, according to Rodela I. Romero, Assistant Director of the Department of Energy’s Oil Industry Management Bureau, said during a Palace briefing on Friday.

She said gasoline prices could rise by “more than P1” per liter, while diesel and kerosene prices could increase “by P5” per liter.

On Monday, Cleanfuel said it will implement starting on Tuesday a price increase of P1.40 per liter for gasoline and P6.10 per liter for diesel.

Mr. Suntay said that taxi drivers and operators continue to struggle despite the reopening of the economy, which resulted in the relaxation of travel restrictions. 

“Nagkaroon ka nga ng pasahero pero ‘yung cost of operating — ‘yung fuel cost — is still high, so wala ring kikitain (Passengers have returned but the cost of operating — mainly fuel — is still high, so there are no earnings,” he said.

According to the LTFRB, the number of active taxis plunged to 27,934 units as of October 2021 from the 50,059 taxis before the lockdown was imposed in mid-March 2020.

As of March 2022, Mr. Suntay estimated there were only around 16,000 active taxis in Metro Manila. 

He said many fleet operators have sold their units in the face of pandemic restrictions and a shortage of drivers.

He said the LTFRB has responded slowly to the industry’s appeal for a higher flag-down rate.

“That’s the problem when the appointed officials do not come from the transport industry… We keep on appointing people who do not come from the transport industry and do not know what the industry needs,” Mr. Suntay said.

‘NEW BURDEN’The No Contact Apprehension Program (NCAP) in force in the capital region is another burden for the taxi operators, according to Mr. Suntay.

“Dapat babaan ’yung fines kasi ang nangyayari sa transport industry, kapag nag-violate ang driver, ang pini-pin nila ay ang operator, hindi ’yung driver (Fines should be lowered, because if a driver violates the rules, the responsibility lies with the operator, not the driver,” Mr. Suntay said.

“By the time na dumating ’yung notice of violation, wala na ‘yung driver, so ngayon ang operator is left with all the penalties (When the notice of violation arrives, the driver could be gone, leaving the operator with all the penalties).”

He said he has received reports from some operators who had to pay P300,000 to P400,000 in fines due to driver violations.

“Can you imagine that? It’s totally unfair. That’s another burden kaya may mga operators na mas gusto na lang ’wag mag -operate (that’s why there are operators that would rather not operate).”

Land Transportation Office (LTO) Chief and Department of Transportation Assistant Secretary Teofilo E. Guadiz III has appealed to local government units that are implementing the NCAP to suspend and consider reviewing the policy.

LGUs can sit down with the LTO to iron out guidelines, including the complaints of operators of public utility vehicles “that they are the ones who are forced to pay the fines for traffic violations committed by their drivers,” the agency said in a statement on Aug. 9.

Asked to comment, Ariel E. Inton, a former board member of the LTFRB, said that the policy adds to the clamor of taxi operators to increase the flag-down rate.

“Hardest hit sila ng NCAP kaya talagang may clamor (They have been hit hardest by NCAP, which is why there is a clamor),” he said in a phone interview.

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